The Bodyguard

Alex Dinelaris after the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan
Michael Harrison and David Ian
Palace Theatre, Manchester
to

When producers seek to widen the appeal of romances, they often bring in elements of comedy or melodramatic tragedy. The Bodyguard is unusual for instead opting for the format of a thriller.

Frank Farmer (Ben Lewis) is the ultimate professional bodyguard—willing to put himself in harm’s way for his clients but reluctant to engage with them emotionally. Frank’s professional restraint comes under duress when he bodyguards diva Rachel Marron (Alexandra Burke) who has attracted an unstable and dangerous stalker. The mutual attraction between the singer and the bodyguard puts both their lives at risk.

To add to the sense of The Bodyguard being a hybrid form of entertainment, it is a jukebox musical featuring songs that are not original compositions but tunes with which the audience is already familiar. In addition to tracks from the film’s soundtrack, the back catalogue of Whitney Houston is extensively exploited. However, rather than seeming a cheat, the jukebox format works seamlessly; as Rachel Marron’s profession is a singer, the songs emerge naturally as part of her daily activities. The artificial aspect of musicals—where characters burst into song mid-speech—is absent and the credibility of the thriller plot is undamaged. The only concession to the conventional musical format is the tendency to reprise a song for a big ending.

The lack of any seasonal features and the gritty thriller format makes The Bodyguard an unlikely choice for a festive show. However, there is no danger of audiences feeling short-changed as The Bodyguard is definitely a big night out crammed full of spectacle.

Director Thea Sharrock takes a cinematic approach moving the musical along at a rapid pace facilitated by Tim Hatley’s set which is in constant motion with sections unpeeling to reveal small scenes or unfolding altogether for the massive concert numbers. As Frank Farmer discusses the motivation of the stalker, filmed inserts of the villain preparing his attacks appear on the backdrop. Sharrock directs chunks of the musical as authentic rock concert performances with full back-up dancers, exciting strobe lighting and even red-hot blasts of flame.

There is no sense of hammering the audience into submission with sheer bombast. Along with the polished dance numbers, there are also looser scenes of the troupe in rehearsal or performing in a crowded venue. Although Sharrock excels at providing spectacle, she does not shy away from the more intimate or iconic moments. A romantic interlude in a karaoke bar concludes with the saloon stripping away to become a starlit night sky and Frank’s intervention to rescue Rachel is captured as a dramatic silhouette on a wall of steam.

Sharrock leaves nothing to chance. Initially it seems that one of Houston’s most popular songs—"I Wanna Dance with Somebody"—is wasted as part of a medley only to reappear as a full production number in the encore. Indeed the urge to please some sections of the audience is so strong as to intrude upon the plot—the stalker constantly flaunting his toned torso diminishes the sense of menace.

Alexandra Burke brings full star power to the role of Rachel, blasting out note-perfect recreations of Whitney Houston’s hits. Although Frank Farmer is supposed to be emotionally repressed, Ben Lewis adds a welcome dry humour remarking he has no choice but to bodyguard other people as he is unable to sing.

The Bodyguard is a show that begins literally with a bang and does not pause for breath, dragging the audience along from one massive number to another and leaving them stunned but most certainly satisfied.

Reviewer: David Cunningham